Archive for the ‘Freedom of Information’ Category


The Last Word

Here are my final remarks from the President’s Installation Banquet at the Excellence in Journalism Conference in San Antonio on Sept. 7, 2019.

At my induction last year in Baltimore, I quoted Albert Camus, who, on the liberation of Paris from Nazi rule, urged journalists to make their voice one of energy, not of hatred, and to take pride in objectivity, and not rhetoric. Let’s not sugarcoat our situation today, our profession is, likewise, under extreme duress and not just simply from ever shrinking newsrooms and the questioning of the media’s integrity but worse: physical assaults at political rallies, and the most disturbing event of all – the deadly attack on the Capitol Gazette. In short, our mission to defend and celebrate journalism is still relevant and ever more dependent on our collective willingness to seek and stand up for the unadulterated truth no matter what the circumstances.

To do this we must jealously hold fast to the freedoms granted us by the First Amendment. These were violated recently, in San Francisco, despite the California Shield law. Police raided the home of journalist Bryan Carmody seeking clues to a confidential police informant. Thanks to SPJ’s NorCal chapter he was interviewed by me at the Medill campus in downtown San Francisco. By the way, it was Bryan’s first public interview. This was a shining example of a successful collaboration between SPJ’s national and local leaders, and their partners, for the right cause – defending our journalist’s rights and with them – our democracy.

I’m particularly proud of the unprecedented summit, Quo Vadis Democracy, that our stellar SPJ staff produced in New York this spring. Together we organized panels about online disinformation and the dangers it poses to our elections and democracy as a whole. One of the featured speakers at this summit is with us here tonight, Maria Ressa, and we are honored to have her with us again. As many of you may be aware by now my focus has always been advocacy and to do this right it is best done in partnership with like-minded groups. We took a giant leap in that direction when we met with more than 30 press freedom groups at this summit where we put together a joint resolution.

I had the honor of later speaking about this summit and journalist protection before an audience of 400 at the United Nations headquarters on World Press Freedom Day. Indeed, it’s been a never-ending pleasure to meet with foreign journalists from countries without any meaningful press freedom. I sincerely believe that, at its best, SPJ, particularly its code of ethics, can serve as a model to the world.

The potential is there but it is imperative we get our house in order. Yes, we’re working diligently to find a new Executive Director, but we ourselves must acknowledge that this is a national organization. It is incumbent upon its leadership, now and in the future, to think large. We have been and we should be focused on advocacy, both in the halls of Congress and in statehouses across the land. And let’s make it clear, this room and our board should more closely resemble the diversity of America that we see when we walk out on East Commerce Street, steps from the front door of our hotel.

 

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Advocacy

 

During the 2018-2019 term, SPJ has responded to the heightened challenges to press freedom, including verbal and physical attacks on journalists, with a wave of advocacy statements and interviews by SPJ leaders.

The key statements and media interviews can also be found here

 

Media Interviews by SPJ National Leaders

 

September 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 2019

 

 

May 2019

 

 

 

 

April 2019

 

 

 

March 2019

 

February 2019

 

 

 

 

January 2019

 

 

 

November 2018

 

 

October 2018

 

September 2018

  • Live radio interview with SPJ National President-Elect J. Alex Tarquinio about the First Amendment and Open Government on Court Radio, WRNB 100.3 FM Philadelphia, Sept. 1, 2018

 

Public Appearances by SPJ National Leaders

 

August 2019

 

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio moderated a live interview with San Francisco journalist Bryan Carmody, whose home was raided by the police in search of clues to his confidential sources, along with his lawyer. (video)

 

  • Lynn Walsh organized a Facebook “Train the Trainers” program from Aug. 15 to 16. SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio gave opening remarks.

 

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio and SPJ Indiana State Pro Chapter President John Russell gave remarks at the 110th SPJ Anniversary event at DePauw University. (video)

 

July 2019

  • SPJ Journalist on Call Rod Hicks hosted the final session of the Casper Project, with Foundation President Irwin Gratz and SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio giving opening remarks, July 16.

 

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio represented the Society at a forum on journalist safety at the United Nations, July 17.

 

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio gave opening remarks at a D.C. Pro chapter event about Whistleblowers, July 31.

 

June 2019

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio gave opening remarks at an SPJ Google News Institute event before the SDX Banquet, June 21.

 

May 2019

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio delivered prepared remarks and participated on a panel with Steven Adler and Warren Hoge before an audience of 400 at the United Nations headquarters in New York on World Press Freedom Day, May 3. (video) (text of remarks)

 

 

April 2019

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio produced and hosted a World Press Freedom Day Summit from April 26 to 27 with a generous grant from Craig Newmark. The theme of this gathering, known as Quo Vadis Democracy was journalism nonprofit leaders was the threat of disinformation to journalism and democracy. (videos) (text of group resolution)

 

March 2019

 

 

November 2018

 

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio represented the Society at the Paris Peace Forum, Nov. 11, 2019. Her column about it was picked up by the Associated Press.

 

October 2018

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio and RTDNA Executive Director Dan Shelley spoke to a group of 25 global journalists at the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Press Center at the United Nations, Oct. 5.

 

 

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio gave remarks at the SPJ Google News Institute election training event in Washington, D.C., Oct. 16.

 

September 2018

 

Advocacy Statements

The Legal Defense Fund Committee

Signed 55+ (some are in process) Friend of the Court briefs and advocacy letters and statements since October 2018, which can be viewed here

 

Press Releases

 

July 2019

 

May 2019

 

 

 

 

 

March 2019

 

 

 

February 2019

 

January 2019

 

December 2018

 

November 2018

 

 

 

October 2018

 

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Journalism Trust Initiative

The old maxim that a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on is out of date. In the Internet age, a lie can circle the globe many times while the truth is struggling to get followers.

The deliberate spread of disinformation is an ancient problem. What is new is the rapidity and ease with which it can spread. Technology has put low-cost disinformation tools into the hands of anyone with Internet access. In recent years, several programs have been created to tackle this thorny issue, among them, the Journalism Trust Initiative. Reporters Without Borders, also known internationally by its French name Reporters Sans Frontières, has been working on this year-long project to verify news websites in the fight against online disinformation.

I am a proud participant in the JTI project, having been invited to represent the Society of Professional Journalists on the drafting committee. I was immediately won over to the idea of using algorithms to elevate content from ethical news outlets above the flotsam and jetsam of the Internet. For the past year, my fellow participants, who include more than 120 global media and non-profit leaders, have met to discuss such important topics as media ownership, transparency and ethics. SPJ is the only U.S. professional journalism association represented.

Yesterday, the project took a giant leap forward with the announcement of a $1.5 million gift from Craig Newmark Philanthropies to help fund the implementation of JTI. After more than a year of meetings to hammer out a consensus-based set of standards for trustworthy journalism, the second phase of this project will allow media outlets to implement the standards in a voluntary, self-regulatory process.

Yet as the first phase draws to a close, the critical stage of gathering public comments is underway. After approving a draft document at a plenary session in Geneva in June, the working draft  has been shared with the public for comments.

Attendees at the Excellence in Journalism Conference in San Antonio will get a chance to weigh in on the document and contribute their suggestions in a half-day workshop, from 1 – 4 p.m. in Lone Star B on the second floor of the conference.

If you’re in San Antonio, come contribute your ideas about how applying journalistic standards to websites might fix disinformation. And most importantly, help us decide if the U.S. news media should get on board with this project.

If you’re not in San Antonio, learn more and contribute comments until Oct. 18 via this website. My fellow project participants and I will review all comments before voting on the final document in November.

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President’s Letter from San Antonio

Here is the final President’s Letter from the board packets for the Sept. 5 meeting of the national board of directors at the Excellence in Journalism Conference in San Antonio. Read the highlights of the year, including major accomplishments by the SPJ volunteers and staff.

MEMORANDUM

FROM: J. Alex Tarquinio, SPJ National President

TO: SPJ national board of directors

RE: Final report for Sept. 5, 2019 board meeting

Colleagues,

At this crucial moment for our Society, we should not rush headlong into the future without pausing to reflect on the accomplishments made during this pivotal year. Despite the challenges of operating without a permanent executive director, our tireless volunteers and staff have achieved great things in this, the 110th anniversary of the Society of Professional Journalists.

PRESIDENT’S REPORT

The national committees have been going full steam ahead. Here are some top-level highlights from the reports to follow in this packet:

  • Membership: Colin DeVries, the committee chair who took charge midterm, created a successful summer membership drive that resulted in 220 new members (versus 148 in the same period a year ago) and 607 renewing members (versus 296.)
  • Diversity: Rebecca Aguilar and Ivette Davila-Richards, the new committee chair and vice chair, have revamped the Dori Maynard Diversity Leadership Program from top to bottom. The committee is hosting six extraordinary Fellows out of a pool of 21 applicants.
  • Ethics: The committee chaired by Lynn Walsh has created a 45-minute presentation that can be shared with non-journalists. Once again, SPJ’s Ethics Week was promoted on the Reuters billboard in Times Square.
  • Generation-J Committee: Tess Fox revived the committee, which has decided to focus on two projects going forward: a student chapter guidebook and a mentorship program.
  • Education Committee: Under the leadership of co-chairs Rebecca Tallent and Leticia Steffen, the successful #Press4Education program continues to grow, matching 186 volunteers with teachers to date.
  • Legal Defense Fund Committee: The committee, chaired by Hagit Limor, acted on more than 55 cases and resurrected the silent and live auctions.
  • Freelance Community: The community, chaired by Hilary Niles, continues to grow, primarily through Facebook and Twitter, and is seeking greater awareness within SPJ.
  • International Community: The community, which is led by co-chairs Elle Toussi and Dan Kubiske, has forged new partnerships with One Free Press Coaliton and the International Senior Lawyers Project.

Meanwhile, the national board has begun some painstaking and important transitional work, some of which will continue into the new term.

  • Policy Review Task Force: The task force, chaired by Matt Hall, conducted a thorough inventory and review of national board policies.
  • Strategic Planning Task Force: The task force, chaired by Victor Hernandez, initiated work on the first strategic plan since 2006, an objective that our executive search consultants advise us would be best to attain sooner rather than later, with the involvement of our new full-time executive director.
  • Executive Director Search Committee: The SPJ board unanimously decided to go forward with a professional search firm, rather than to lead the search process itself, as SPJ has done in the past. Search Committee Chair Hagit Limor is the point of contact for the consultants. The board policy review and the drafting of a strategic plan are integral to this search, as many qualified applicants would view the lack of strong policies or planning as a negative.
  • The 110th Anniversary Task Force: On a lighter note, this task force chaired by Yvette Walker has generated some fun ideas, such as a Spotify list of songs about news.

Furthermore, despite the high turnover at HQ in the first half of the 2018-2019 term, I was determined not to drop the ball on the key goals I had set when I ran for this office two years ago—improving diversity at all levels of the Society, while increasing our press freedom advocacy and forging new partnerships. Some highlights of these goals:

  • We obtained a generous $25,000 grant from the Craig Newmark Philanthropies to hold a journalism nonprofit summit ahead of World Press Freedom Day. Held over two days in New York, 82 people from more than 30 press freedom groups attended the summit and helped craft a joint resolution.
  • On World Press Freedom Day, May 3, I spoke on a panel at the United Nations before an audience of 400 to discuss the SPJ journalism nonprofit summit the week before, which had focused on threats to journalism and democracy in a time of disinformation.
  • Bryan Carmody, the San Francisco journalist whose home was raided by the police in search of clues to a confidential police source, spoke for the first time publicly about the case at an event that I moderated, which was hosted by the SPJ NorCal Pro chapter at the Medill School in downtown San Francisco. This was an example of a successful collaboration between SPJ local and national leaders and our partners.
  • I served as a drafting committee member in the Journalism Trust Initiative, a project of the Reporters Without Borders/Reporters sans frontières (RSF).
  • Along the way, key SPJ leaders—including Rod Hicks, Lynn Walsh, Paul Fletcher, Danielle McLean and myself—have issued a steady stream of advocacy statements and media interviews. See Addendum A.

 

INTERIM EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR’S REPORT

On May 13, two weeks after the departure of the SPJ executive director, the executive committee of the SPJ national board and the top two officers of the SPJ Foundation held a conference call to determine what to do while SPJ searched for a permanent executive director. The President-Elect had done research on hiring an interim executive director. However, the leaders from both boards on the May 13 call determined that SPJ could not afford to take this step, so they asked for a report focused on having the SPJ President continue as acting interim while hiring business consultants to do two things: search for a full-time executive director and draft an on-site managerial assessment of headquarters to inform this search and help guide the next full-time executive director.

I prepared this report based on advice from SPJ Legal Counsel Mark Bailen and numerous interviews with executive consultants. The report was unanimously approved in a meeting of the full SPJ national board on June 1. SPJ Foundation President Irwin Gratz also approved this report, which detailed a financial analysis by SPJ Controller Jake Koenig that showed the cost of hiring a consultant for both the executive search and the on-site assessment would largely be offset by not paying for an interim executive director. A public version of the report, which excluded just the private bids and financial analysis, was shared with SPJ members via the Freedom of the Prez blog on June 5. See Addendum B, or this link:

https://blogs.spjnetwork.org/president/2019/06/05/executive-director-transition-plan/

The staff has performed heroically over the past four months, despite the lack of a permanent executive director on site. After a year of intense turnover in Indianapolis through April, we’ve had no staff departures other than the communications employee who left to get married and move out of state, which had been expected. Meanwhile, we have added three new employees since April, Zoë Berg and Ashlynn Neumeyer, two communications interns, and Kathy Parker, a full-time accountant.

The staff, both old and new hires, have bonded together as a team and their positive attitude has ensured the smooth execution of the SDX banquet in June and the Excellence in Journalism Conference. We are expecting about 1800 attendees in San Antonio, about the same as the last time we had all three conference organizers in 2017. Additionally, we’ve brought back some of the cherished traditions that we had to forego last year because of the staff turnover at that time, such as the Legal Defense Fund auction and the Pro Chapter Leaders meeting. The staff has also negotiated new agreements with some of our existing partners, without losing a single partner despite being in a transitional period.

Here are some top-level highlights of the staff’s recent accomplishments:

  • EIJ is expected to have 1800 attendees, more than 70 sessions, and 92 exhibit booths. Key events that have been arranged by the staff include breakout sessions, super sessions, the J-Expo, opening night reception, President’s Installation Banquet and reception, Scripps reception, Student Union, donor reception, LDF auction, three board meetings, 10 committee meetings, 9 Regional meetings, Freelance Corner meetings, EIJ News, 110th committee table and SPJ tee-shirt sales.
  • The Knight Foundation approved a $45,000 ($15,000 per year over three years) grant to support the Excellence in Journalism Conference.
  • More than 70 awards were presented, and we had 170 guests at the SDX banquet on June 21 at the National Press Club, which ran like clockwork, despite the fact that many of the new staff were working the banquet for the first time.
  • The Communications team managed by Jennifer Royer issued around 20 advocacy statements on press freedom issues.  (See an advocacy list as an addendum to this report.)
  • The Quill magazine redesign is going well under new editor Lou Harry. Quillmag.com had its highest monthly views ever in June with 6695 hits.
  • Rod Hicks wrapped up the SPJ Foundation-funded Casper Project with a well-attended public forum in Casper Wyoming, where Irwin and I both gave brief introductory remarks.
  • Caroline Escobar managed a summer membership drive amid EIJ preparations that resulted in a 47% increase in new members and twice as many renewing members compared to the same period last year.
  • At the April mid-year board meeting, the SPJ board decided to move the 2021 conference to New Orleans. Basharat Saleem negotiated a new contract with the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. The room rate will be $149 (compared with a $198 four-year average) with a total of 1193 hotel rooms.
  • In addition to the usual graphics and website updates by Tony Peterson and Billy O’Keefe, both worked on special projects this year:  to include the World Press Freedom Day Summit;  the redesign of the SPJ Foundation logo and branding, due to the name change;  and the 110th Anniversary celebration, which required the logo, pin, ads, thank you cards, Quill addition, conference ribbon and step and repeat banner.
  • SPJ is to provide complete event support for the JAWS CAMP in late September, with Basharat and Matt Kent from the staff to be on site.
  • The Google program, now managed by Lou, is on track. So far in 2019, 2562 journalists have been trained through the SPJ Google Tools training program and it is closing in on the projected total of 4000 for the year.
  • Facebook agreed to provide further funding to carry their Journalism project, managed by Lynn Walsh, through to the end of 2019. Since the program was launched in March 2018, SPJ and Facebook have led more than 150 trainings in newsrooms, classrooms and at conferences in Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C. and 41 of the 50 states. To date, the program has trained more than 4,000 journalists and counting.
  • Controller Jake Koenig hired a full-time accountant, which I approved during my first trip to Indianapolis as acting interim executive director, based on his identifying understaffing as the reason for slow financial reporting. Jake and Kathy, the new full-time accountant, and Toni Sculky, the part-time accountant, are now working together to bring reporting up to date.
  • Despite all the hard work and many distractions, both the staff and volunteers found time to plan for and celebrate SPJ’s 110th Anniversary, which culminated in a ceremony organized by Larry Messing at DePauw University just steps from the spot where SPJ was founded.
  • Last but certainly by no means least, none of this would have been possible, throughout this demanding interim period, without the stalwart Linda Hall keeping the staff on track. It is hardly surprising that they refer to her as their “den mother.”

In closing, amid the current climate of uncertainty for our profession, we, nevertheless, have ample reasons to look optimistically towards SPJ’s future. Our mission to educate the current and future generations of journalists, while defending journalism ethics and advocating for open government and press freedom, has never been more relevant and worthwhile. I’d like to end by saying it has been a privilege to pilot SPJ through this challenging transitional period. It is my fervent hope that the swift resolution of the executive director search and the realization of the strategic plan will steer this organization, which has meant so much to me in the 12 years that I have served it as a volunteer, into a brighter tomorrow.

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Sunshine Week begins early this year

Today marks the beginning of Sunshine Week, an annual rite of spring for media nonprofits. As the days lengthen, we are reminded that the framers of our constitution, among them James Madison, had a vision of government transparency that was a radical break from the world they were born into. Madison, a consummate publicist in an era before his name became associated with that art, first tried to sell the public on the need for federalism in the Federalist Papers. When the Constitution continued to encounter opposition, he proposed the articles that came to be known as the “Bill of Rights.”

Sunshine Week was created by our friends at the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) to coincide with Madison’s birthday on March 16. Since the first Sunshine Week in 2005, the annual celebration of open government has grown to include many partners. The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) is proud to count ourselves among them.

In advance of Sunshine Week, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to do some lobbying on Capitol Hill with our friends in the News Media for Open Government, an alliance of news media and journalism organizations that includes SPJ. I joined with alliance members from ASNE, RCFP, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, the National Newspaper Association and the News Media Alliance.

Together, we met on Monday with legislative aides for Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, and Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, who both serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

We discussed the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) portal, the signature achievement of our media coalition: the #FixFOIAby50 campaign. This campaign successfully sought to modernize this crucial tool of government transparency by FOIA’s 50th anniversary on July 4, 2016. The passage of this legislation created a unified portal to act as a clearing house for FOIA requests to government agencies. Now, our goal is to push for the improvement of the portal so that requests are smoothly handled and more swiftly fulfilled. In particular, we want documents that are repeatedly requested to be made public.

We also talked about the Journalist Protection Act, a much-needed new law that would help safeguard the act of newsgathering. This failed to win passage in the last Congressional session, and it is one of our coalition’s top priorities for the current session.

The Journalist Protection Act would amend the federal penal code to make it a crime to assault a journalist on the job. It would punish an individual who knowingly injures a journalist with the intention of intimidation or to impede the act of newsgathering.

Sadly, this law has become necessary in the hostile climate for American reporters that has evolved since the 2016 election. Congressmembers of both houses began talking about reintroducing this legislation in February, after a Trump supporter violently shoved a BBC cameraman filming President Donald Trump giving a speech at a rally in El Paso, Texas.

“This is what happens when a President calls a #FreePress the ‘enemy of the people’ and whips his rallies into a frenzy. Assaults must not be tolerated, and I look forward to re-introducing the #JournalistProtectionAct along with @SenBlumenthal,” California Democratic Congressmember Eric Swalwell wrote on Twitter at the time.

Likewise, we at SPJ, and the other members of the News Media for Open Government, look forward to advocating for this legislation during the 116th U.S. Congress.

World Press Freedom Day

The following day, I went on my own to meet with legislative aides on the other side of the Capitol Building, in the offices of Congressmembers Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, and Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican.

I had met with both Congressional aides previously in September. Their bosses co-chair the Congressional Freedom of the Press Caucus, which focuses exclusively on threats to press freedom outside of the United States.

Among the occasional statements made by the caucus is an annual resolution in support of the United Nations World Press Freedom Day, marked each year on May 3. This year, we at SPJ plan to celebrate World Press Freedom Day in a big way. (For more about those plans soon, keep an eye on Freedom of the Prez.)

On Tuesday, we chatted about the greatest risks to global press freedom and the need to advocate for journalist safety overseas. Earlier this year, the caucus held a meeting in D.C. spotlighting their demand for a thorough investigation into the death of Saudi Arabian journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. SPJ will watch for future caucus events and share them with you on our social media.

After these meetings, it was on to the National Press Club, where I met with the newly-installed president, Alison Kodjak. In her day job, she’s an NPR health policy correspondent.

We talked about the Club’s plans for a Night Out for Austin Tice on May 2, a day before World Press Freedom Day, in order to raise awareness about the only American journalist currently being held hostage overseas. Participating restaurants have pledged to donate a portion of their proceeds that evening to a fund that will add to a $1 million reward established by the Federal Bureau of Investigations for information leading to the safe return of Austin Tice.

Tice, an award-winning freelance journalist and veteran U.S. Marine Corps officer, was abducted while covering the civil war in Syria in 2012. Kodjak said one of the most important aspects of the May 2 event is to raise awareness about his captivity.

At the start of Sunshine Week, it’s important to remember the many ways we can advocate for press freedom — whether by striving to improve upon our federal and state freedom of information laws, to protect the act of newsgathering, or to raise awareness of the efforts to intimidate or impede journalists at home or abroad. Pick your cause, then go forth and fight for it.

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Giving the thumbs up to Reuters’ jailed journalists

Giving the thumbs-up gesture in solidarity with Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, jailed in Myanmar one year ago today.

Dec. 12 marks the disgraceful anniversary of the detention of two courageous Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. And if the authorities in Myanmar have their way, they will spend the next six years in jail.

A “thumbs-up” gesture has become a global symbol of solidarity with the pair of Reuters reporters, so today, photos of believers in press freedom giving the familiar gesture along with the hashtag #FreeWaLoneandKyawSoeOo have been circulating on social media.

The journalists were detained last year after reporting on a massacre of Rohingya in a broader effort by the government to suppress the minority group that the United Nations has called a genocide. The result of their reporting: a chilling story filed in February, Massacre in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize-winning leader of the country, has not used her position to defend or pardon the jailed journalists.

The Society of Professional Journalists has advocated on behalf of these brave Reuters reporters, as well as the other journalists who made the four covers of TIME Magazine’s “person of the year.” We sent a letter to the White House demanding that it push for an independent investigation into the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. We released a statement last week urging the Philippine government to drop the politically-motivated charges against news website Rappler and its CEO Maria Ressa. And we held a forum about the attack on the Capital Gazette at our annual conference in Baltimore in September.

We will keep advocating on behalf of these courageous journalists until the last one is freed or vindicated.

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#TruthNeverDies

UN Marks Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists With a Look Back at the Life of Chris Hondros

 

Chris Hondros was a stranger to fear. In the opening scene of a documentary about the award-winning conflict photographer, he takes a cellphone call amid crossfire in Monrovia, Liberia. At this point in the film, the audience doesn’t see Hondros. We hear his off-screen voice calmly explain that “things are fine” to the caller, who must surely have heard the hail of bullets. He ends the conversation quickly by saying “give me a call back in about half an hour.”

The Getty Images photojournalist covered nearly every major global conflict beginning with the war in Kosovo in 1999. He went on to cover Iraq, Pakistan and the Arab Spring — until his luck ran out when he was killed by a mortar attack in Libya in April 2011.

A recent documentary directed by his childhood friend Greg Campbell portrays the American photojournalist’s courage and passion for his calling. In an early clip, a teenage Hondros is greeted by scoffs when he tells the other boys sitting around a table that he really isn’t afraid of anything. The rest of the film goes on to prove this wasn’t an empty boast.

The feature-length film, titled simply ‘Hondros,’ (now streaming on Netflix), was screened at the United Nations headquarters in New York today. The audience included diplomats, journalists and the film’s executive producer, Riva Marker, who said the production company she co-founded with American actor Jake Gyllenhaal, Nine Stories Productions, which is better known for fictional films, made this documentary because of the strength of the childhood friendship between the filmmaker and the photojournalist.

The occasion marked the fifth anniversary of the UN’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

The UN created this global event in late 2013 to raise awareness about the impunity with which journalists around the world are being killed, imprisoned or silenced. Today’s date was chosen in memory of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, two French journalists murdered in Mali on Nov. 2, 2013.

 

Here I am posing in front of the United Nations headquarters with the hashtag of the day: #TruthNeverDies.

 

Today, the UN unveiled a new awareness campaign to draw attention to this issue with the tagline #TruthNeverDies. UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced the campaign in videotaped remarks shown at the event.

“In just over a decade, more than 1,000 journalists have been killed while carrying out their indispensable work. Nine out of ten cases are unresolved, with no one held accountable,” the secretary-general said. “This year alone, at least 88 journalists have been killed. Many thousands have been attacked, harassed, detained or imprisoned on spurious charges without due process. And this is outrageous. This should not become the new normal.”

He went on to express how deeply troubled he was by the growing number of attacks against journalists and the culture of impunity, while calling on governments and the international community to protect journalists and create the conditions they need to do their work.

Today was also a reminder that the recent brutal killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was hardly an anomaly. It is a method of repressing free speech that is becoming all too common.

UNESCO publishes its findings related to the safety of journalists in the World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development: 2017/18 Global Report

Facts and Figures for 2006 – 2017 include:

  • 1010 killings of journalists have been condemned by UNESCO Director-General in the last 12 years.
  • Nine out of ten cases of killed journalists remain unresolved.
  • 93% of killed journalists are local and only 7% are foreign correspondents.
  • Journalist killing per region: 33.5% in the Arab Region. 26% in Asia & Pacific. 22.9% in Latin America and the Caribbean. 11.6% in Africa. 4% in Central & Eastern Europe. 2.5% in Western Europe and North America.

 

SPJ demands Khashoggi’s killers be brought to justice

We call on Trump to push for independent investigation in a letter to White House

Editor’s note: Shortly after this letter was mailed and sent electronically to the White House, Saudi Arabia confirmed the death of the missing journalist. The Society of Professional Journalists still calls for a full and transparent independent investigation that leads to the arrests of the perpetrators of this crime.

 

October 19, 2018

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to you today on behalf of the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, to express our deep concern over the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as your ongoing rhetoric attacking press freedom, a crucial pillar of our democracy.

While our organization takes no political party stance, like all free speech groups we are partisan on the issue of press freedom and the other rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which you have sworn to uphold.

Today, we implore you to lay aside political rhetoric and stand up for press freedom worldwide. As President of the United States, a position long viewed as the leader of the free world, we urge you to insist on a full and transparent independent investigation into the disappearance and alleged extrajudicial killing of Mr. Khashoggi. That would send a strong message to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — where journalists critical of the royal family have been jailed — that attacking, jailing and murdering journalists is an affront to the people’s right to know and the people’s right to participate in the democratic process.

That message, Mr. President, must be followed by a sincere commitment on your part to condemn those who would seek to weaken our democracy by silencing a free press. We were extremely disappointed by your apparent praise of Congressman Greg Gianforte’s assault on a reporter who asked him a question — behavior for which the congressman himself has publicly apologized. Assaulting or otherwise threatening a journalist is not macho behavior to be commended at a campaign stop. It signals a cynical disregard for the safety of journalists to repressive political leaders around the world.

Now it is time to take a stand for global press freedom. We expect you as our President to remind Saudi Arabia that there are grave consequences for an ally of the United States if it takes, as alleged, the unconscionable step of silencing a journalist by premeditated ambush, torture and murder.

Respectfully,
J. Alex Tarquinio
President
Society of Professional Journalists

President’s Installation Banquet Speech

 

Remarks Given by National SPJ President

J. Alex Tarquinio

after being sworn in at the

President’s Installation Banquet

at the Excellence in Journalism Conference

in Baltimore on Sept. 30, 2018

 

An editor once opined, as editors do, in a time of deep skepticism towards the media that it was imperative for journalists “to make their voice one of energy rather than of hatred,” and, “if we take pride in objectivity rather than in rhetoric, in humanity rather than in mediocrity, then we will preserve many things and we won’t be without merit.” That editor was the writer and philosopher, Albert Camus, and the time was 1944, a week after Paris was liberated from Nazi occupiers. In his moment, Camus understood the endemic public mistrust of journalists. After all, not a few had been Nazi collaborators and the political divisions appeared to be insurmountable.

Our fight to maintain high journalistic standards today, amid assaults on our credibility and economic pressures, isn’t a new one. In each age and across the globe, journalists have been combatting government propaganda, roadblocks to public information, interference with news distribution, and even trials and executions for exposing the truth. These battles still rage on, as far off as Myanmar, where two of our colleagues have been arbitrarily imprisoned, and as near as Washington, D.C., where the president refers to the media as the “enemy of the American people.”

Demagoguery isn’t new, it just takes on a new face in each age.

Our challenge as journalists is to rise above the rhetoric, to use our craft to reveal the humanity of the voiceless rather than the mediocrity of the talking heads.

That is why the Society of Professional Journalists will continue to support reporters who are stymied at every turn with lawsuits or endless Freedom of Information requests.

That’s why we’ll keep sharpening the skills of all of our members, especially freelancers and journalism students, who don’t benefit from on-the-job training.

That’s why we’ll enlighten the public about how we do our jobs, through public speaking engagements, editorials and our innovative new program, #Press4Education.

That’s why we’ll push harder for diverse coverage by media outlets that reflect the communities they cover.

And above all, that’s why we’ll keep educating the public and our fellow journalists about our ethics code. This is the gold standard by which mutual trust between the public and the press can be earned.

As news gatherers, we need to be rigorously even-handed in our coverage and leave rhetoric to the opinion pages. We mustn’t lose sight of the diverse spectrum of opinions in our society and succumb to the phony dichotomies of reality TV. And we must be unswerving in our support of free speech. Just as citizens living in a free society have the right to be informed, those same citizens, no matter what their viewpoints, have the right to be heard.

As American journalists, we are privileged. Although the First Amendment is under constant pressure it stands tall and by association so do we while conducting our everyday reporting. This is far from the case in other oppressed parts of the world, where the journalists live in fear that they might be jailed or murdered for exposing wrongdoing. We have traditionally enjoyed real freedom of the press—unparalleled in the history of the world.  We must not take this for granted, but rather set shining examples to inspire our international colleagues who risk their liberty and their lives in simply doing their jobs.

Yet it’s hard to deny that anti-press rhetoric has been rising in many democracies—including our own—at a time when our reporting is being overwhelmed by a steady digital stream of opinion, publicity, rumor and deceit. As our country becomes more polarized, we must rise above partisan politics. We mustn’t retreat into defensiveness. Let the restrained response we give to those who label us “fake” show who has the moral high ground.

As the largest journalism association in the land, SPJ has advocated for the free flow of information for generations. We supported legislation in 2016 to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act and will push to see that this is fully implemented, creating a consolidated online portal to request information from any federal agency. We see a real need for legislation currently sitting in Congress that would make it a federal crime to assault a journalist reporting in the field. And we will keep pressing the government not to use public information officers as gatekeepers to limit our access to sources, and not to pursue whistleblowers who sound the alarm about government waste or wrongdoing.

One thing we could be better at is communicating our goals to our members and to the public at large. SPJ signs on to countless legal briefs and supports journalists in peril, yet we do very little to tell the public about this advocacy. If Americans understood what it takes sometimes to get the story, they might be better able to discern the difference between reporting and propaganda.

And as I stated when I ran for this office a year ago, I’d like to see SPJ form closer partnerships with other press freedom organizations. SPJ should be the go-to press group for journalists from across the globe when they think of freedom of information and democracy.

We can learn from the expertise of other groups that specialize in foreign reporting, covering trauma or digital journalism, while spreading the word about our esteemed code of ethics and our fight to improve access to public information.

I hope to make these partnerships a cornerstone of the coming year. Because we amplify our message when we speak with one voice.

As this audience knows, we couldn’t do all of this without our members who step up to lead these efforts. Much of our work is done by the national committees, so I wish to announce a few new faces who I’ve asked to chair the committees in the year ahead. I will begin with those who are continuing to lead the same committees—and obviously, we thank them for their past and continuing service to SPJ. And if you’re here, please stand up when you hear your name.

Andy Schotz will continue to chair the Awards & Honors committee; Danielle McLean will continue to lead the Freedom of Information committee; Hagit Limor will once again chair the Legal Defense Fund committee and Bob Becker will continue to keep us on the straight and narrow with Bylaws.

Now for the new faces, Leticia Steffen will co-chair the Education Committee, along with last year’s chair Becky Tallent; Rebecca Aguilar, will chair the Diversity Committee; Lynn Walsh will chair the Ethics committee; Michael Arena will chair the Membership committee; one of the new national board members, Michael Savino, will chair the Resolutions committee; and finally, the Nominations committee, which recruits candidates for the national board and the regional coordinators, will be chaired by Eddye Gallagher.

It is the volunteer efforts of these dedicated members that allow SPJ to thrive. We thank you.

And my appreciation to everyone here for your support and belief in SPJ. Together, we set the bar high. Now let’s go out and make our voices heard.

Thank you, and good night.

–30–

Memos and Emails to Federal Agency Employees Ban Press Releases, Social Media Posts and “Outward Facing” Documents

Denying agencies from sharing and communicating with the public, even temporarily, denies citizens their rights to access and the ability to hold the government accountable.

The public’s access to its government and its employees is dying.

Tuesday, memos and emails, obtained by a variety of news organizations, show federal agencies are being prohibited from sending press releases, posting on social media and sharing information on blogs.

The agencies involved include the Environmental Protection Agency (link 1, link 2) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It is being described as a temporary media blackout but in reality, it is the public that is being kept in the dark.

The Associated Press is reporting emails sent to EPA staff since President Donald Trump took office, ban employees from “providing updates on social media or to reporters.” According to BuzzFeed News, USDA employees, specifically employees in the Agricultural Research Service department, were told not to release “any public-facing documents” including “news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content.”

This is a step away from transparency. This is also a step in the complete opposite direction of what The Society of Professional Journalists and more than 60 other journalism and free press organizations were hoping to discuss with President Trump and his administration when we sent a letter asking for more transparency within government agencies and more direct access to government employees.

The letter, sent to President Trump and his administration less than a week ago, specifically asked for a meeting to discuss three things:

  • the ability of reporters to directly interact with government employees who are subject matter experts, rather than interacting with Public Information Officers (or having all conversations monitored by Public Information Officers);
  • access to the activities of the President;
  • and ensuring that the Federal Freedom of Information Act remains as strong as possible.

Click here to read the letter.

Policies, where federal agencies are barred, even temporarily, from releasing information to the public are unacceptable. These policies prevent the public from knowing what the agencies are spending taxpayer money on. They go against what this country was founded on. They go against our existence as a democracy.

These policies keep the public completely in the dark. They also do not allow journalists to hold the government and its officials accountable.

According to the Washington Post, USDA officials said ARS had not “blacked out public information.” They added, according to the article “that scientific articles published through professional peer-reviewed journals have not been banned.” In a statement, a representative with the ARS told the Washington Post, “as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency, ARS values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public as we strive to find solutions to agricultural problems affecting America.”

It is unclear if these directives came from within the USDA, from Trump himself or from officials overseeing the transition.

What is clear when instituting policies like this is that it shows a complete disregard for the public’s right to know what the government it is doing and it threatens the right of the public to access information through the Federal Freedom of Information Act.

SPJ will not stand by and watch as journalists and the public’s rights are being threatened. Even if temporary, this is a step away from an open and honest government.

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